Aspen Bibliography

Phenotypic Variation in Phytochemical Defense of Trembling Aspen in Western North America: Genetics, Development, and Geography

Document Type


Author ORCID Identifier

Richard L. Lindroth

Kennedy F. Rubert-Nason

Clay J. Morrow

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Journal of Chemical Ecology






Springer New York LLC

First Page


Last Page


Publication Date



Trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) is arguably the most important deciduous tree species in the Intermountain West of North America. There, as elsewhere in its range, aspen exhibits remarkable genetic variation in observable traits such as morphology and phenology. In contrast to Great Lakes populations, however, relatively little is known about phytochemical variation in western aspen. This survey of phytochemistry in western aspen was undertaken to assess how chemical expression varies among genotypes, cytotypes (diploid vs. triploid), and populations, and in response to development and mammalian browsing. We measured levels of foliar nitrogen, salicinoid phenolic glycosides (SPGs) and condensed tannins (CTs), as those constituents influence organismal interactions and ecosystem processes. Results revealed striking gentoypic variation and considerable population variation, but minimal cytotype variation, in phytochemistry of western aspen. Levels of SPGs and nitrogen declined, whereas levels of CTs increased, with tree age. Browsed ramets had much higher levels of SPGs, and lower levels of CTs, than unbrowsed ramets of the sam genotype. We then evaluated how composite chemical profiles of western aspen differ from those of Great Lakes aspen (assessed in earlier research). Interestingly, mautre western aspen trees maintain much higher levels of SPGs, and lower levels of CTs, than Great Lakes aspen. Phenotypic variation in chemical composition of aspen - a foundation species - in the Intermountain West likely has important consequences for organismal interactions and forest ecosystem dynamics. Moreover, those consequences likely play out over spatial and temporal scales somewhat differently than have been documented for Great Lakes aspen.